Practicing yoga at home is about knowing yourself – observing and attending to your body’s needs and moving at your own pace. It is about building a practice that makes you happy and comfortable, that indulges or calms you depending on your moods and energy level. A yoga sequence (what poses to do and in what order) is a fundamental and effective tool to begin designing your practice at home. While it can take years to master the finer details of sequencing, here is a fun framework to get you started with.
Adapted from San Francisco-based yoga teacher Jason Crandell, this template is made up of 8 pose categories in a set order. It allows you to customize a pose sequence that progresses safely through a start (warm-up), middle (peak poses) and a finish (cool-down). Pick your favorite poses within these categories and make the sequence as intense or long as you want!
Opening poses usually include a stillness aspect – either pranayama or meditation to bring awareness to your self and practice. It also consists of physical exercises that awaken your main muscle groups. Since yoga practice typically puts emphasis on the hips and spine, you can choose opening poses that warm these parts up. Poses include Mountain Pose, Upward Salute, Cat/Cow Pose, Sphinx and Easy Pose.
Sun salutations synchronize movement and breath in a series of continuous poses in a set order. They generate heat in your entire body quickly and is an efficient warm-up. Tailor your practice’s duration and difficulty level by choosing the number of rounds and type of pose modification.
Main Set / Peak Poses
Standing poses target your core muscles and lower body muscles like hamstrings, calves, and quads. They help to build up endurance, flexibility, and power in your whole body. A good tip is to choose complementary poses to stretch opposing muscles for a balanced practice. For example, Warrior 1 and Warrior 2 or Side Angle Pose and Revolved Side Angle Pose.
Twists release pressure in the spine and loosen the hips and shoulders. They span an array of poses in the standing, sitting and supine positions. Twists provide a nice transition from standing poses by loosening the spine and warming it for the stimulating backbend. Include a couple or more of some of the twists like Chair Twist, Revolved Half Mood, and Revolved Triangle.
Backbends are a great way to open your heart and strengthen your spine. They consist of poses in the supine (torso up) or prone (torso down) positions. These poses counteract the strains of prolonged hours at a desk and can refresh your senses. As with Inversions, Backbends usually form the peak of your routine – they can be physically challenging and should be done after poses that build you up for it. For example, begin with Fish Pose to progress to a Bridge Pose; or start with Locust/Cobra Pose to get to Bow Pose.
Inversions involve poses that turn you upside down. They work out and create better blood flow to the very ends of your upper body. These poses are athletically demanding, requiring much energy and endurance, thus represents the climax of your practice. For beginners, start with supported inversions such as Plow Pose or Supported Shoulderstand. More advanced inversions include Handstand, Supported Headstand, and Peacock Pose – for these be sure to receive guidance from an instructor before practicing them at home.
Forward bends stretch the back muscles and they are great for soothing the nerves and senses. Since they bring a calming quality to your mind, they are incorporated near the end of a sequence to ground you and prepare you for a finish. Spend 5-8 breath counts in poses like Child’s Pose, Downward Dog, Head to Knee Pose or Seated Forward Bend.
Closing postures provide complete relaxation, allowing you to succumb and draw out goodness from your practice. They include meditation, restorative poses like Legs-Up-On-the-Wall, Reclined Bound Angle Pose, Happy Baby and Corpse Pose or Savasana. Do not skip out on the Savasana at the end of your sequence. Spend at least 8-10 minutes in total surrender, letting deep relaxation wash over your mind and body. This is when you completely absorb the full benefits of the practice.